Scientists routinely study plants and other natural sources for medical therapies. Eventually they narrow it down to a compound and then if possible, optimize the compound and synthetically produce it. Many of our best known medicines were discovered in this way.
There is a big trend these days to eat more natural, nutritional foods. If the idea is to keep people healthy, eating a more balanced diet is essential. More scientific validation of the potential benefits of these natural food sources is enhancing the consumer demand. With the discovery of new life science tools such as gene sequencing and other technical innovations such as artificial intelligence and big data, research in these natural sources of medicine has never been greater. There are large scientific research efforts ongoing to study more carefully many plants, trees, the microbiome (bacteria, fungi, or viruses), etc.
One of the concerns that the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have regarding clinically validating and marketing these natural products is the difficulty of patenting natural products. They need to justify all the time and expense of this research. Other issues relate to ease of manufacturing as synthetic compounds are easier to produce and potentially higher margins than cellular therapies or other plant compounds. Regulatory agencies may scrutinize this process more carefully as well. Some of the best emerging science is taking us in a more natural direction for potential new medical breakthroughs. We need to pay attention and find innovative ways to justify the expense of the scientific work necessary to validate these potential medical foods or therapies. Bringing together interdisciplinary collaborations with important stakeholders to partner on research and/or other business efforts can help with this process. Fortunately, the private industry is rising to the occasion with more and more creative solutions to these economic barriers. For example, GW Pharmaceuticals, a UK based pharmaceutical company, recently announced successful late stage clinical data in rare epilepsies using actual cannabis based plant compounds rather than synthetic chemical versions of the compounds. There are many global private companies with a variety of cellular therapies in development such as stem cell, bacterial, viral or fungal based therapies. One of the hottest areas of medical development these days is based on something known as CRISPR which is a bacterial-derived method of altering the genome. These types of remarkable gene editing tools and other innovative scientific tools are generating considerable excitement in the evolving area of synthetic genomics. Synthetic genomic research is a very broad area of discovery. Of course, the word synthetic is interesting as the study of what is naturally occurring is the fundamental basis for these emerging discoveries. How natural processes work is also the most useful guide as to the safest and best potential use of these new technologies.
With more focus on lowering health care costs and aging societies, it turns out that Mother Nature is the best teacher. If we treat the environment better and follow more sustainable agriculture techniques, we have more nutritional sources of food as well as potential medicine. There is a great positive feedback loop with all the new scientific research that continues to validate incorporating more of these superfoods into our diet. Many of the most exciting nutritional foods these days come from a wide variety of geographic locations, some of them in very poor countries. There are more and more groups of people assisting native farmers in these countries to grow these food sources and develop more efficient businesses. This provides more economic opportunity for those that need it the most. It also provides an important education about the need to take better care of our natural ecosystems.
Below there is a link to an inspiring story about the Moringa Tree and why some people consider it to be a “Miracle Tree.” It is helping farmers around the world dramatically grow their income.